Nothing excites a capacity crowd more than a wide open passing game that produces a parade of big plays against a hated rival. In turn, nothing inspires a defense more than a rocking home crowd that is sky high from an outstanding aerial display.
Consequently, if the Vols can't contain Urban Meyers' version of the fun-and-run offense the going on both sides of the ball figures to be tough, and victory next to impossible.
Any secondary left exposed long enough will be beaten. That's why the key to slowing a quick-hitting passing game as employed by Florida is to disrupt the timing between the quarterback and receivers. In order to do that UT will have to press the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and pressure Leak in the pocket where he is most comfortable.
While sacking the quarterback is the ultimate aim of the defense, applying consistent pressure and creating a state of discomfort for Leak is Tennessee's primary objective come Saturday night. The design of Florida's offense makes it difficult to register sacks against, and it can also make the blitz a risky proposition. So what are the options for Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis?
When you ask your down four to pressure the passer you're placing your faith in personnel over a plan. If you use an array of blitzes to pressure and confuse the quarterback you're banking on a scheme to bolster your players. Tennessee is likely to use a combination of these approaches. Here's some things the Vols might try to stem the tide against the Gators.
(1) Since strong tackle Jesse Mahelona is likely to see the lion's share of double-team blocks, that leaves UT's other three D-linemen with one man to beat. Justin Harrell, Turk McBride, Demonte Bolden, Jason Hall, Parys Haralson, Xaiver Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds have to win some of these battles to make the pass rush viable.
(2) Even against double teams Mahelona can be a factor and not just by occupying two blockers. His quickness will allow him to split some of the double teams by lining up in the gap. The Vols may also elect to shade him to the guard's outside shoulder to drive the guard into the center and make the double team more difficult to implement. Additionally, this creates some run through gaps for the linebackers to exploit on delayed blitzes. He can also get enough push up front even against two O-linemen to help collapse the pocket and get into Leak's space.
(3) Tennessee will also use some stunts, like twists with the tackles as well as the tackles and ends, to breach Florida's pass protection. The Vols had success against UAB's control passing game doing the same thing.
(4) An outside rush by the weak side defensive end off the edge is a typical tactic used to leverage an advantage in quickness. However the outside rush is easier to protect against and allows the pocket to remain intact. Taking an inside route to the quarterback forces the tackle to slide down and creates a natural collapse of the pocket. Expect UT to use this tactic which means the outside linebackers, and sometimes tackles will have some containment responsibilities.
(5) In the past UT has used the zone blitz against Florida more than any other team. It makes sense they will reuse that strategy Saturday. Leak is most effective as a pocket passer even though Florida's new offense has him throwing more from the run than he did his first two seasons in Gainesville. By dropping a 6-foot-4 tackle off the line into the short middle zone, UT can impose a large obstacle for him to see and pass over. In conjunction the Vols can send a linebacker on an inside blitz against an O-line attempting to double Mahelona and adjust to a stunt.
In summary, variety is the key for Tennessee's D against Florida. The Vols must give Leak a lot of looks while disguising their intent so that he doesn't get a good pre-snap read. Chavis should and will employ the Mustang package in some situations. The infusion of extra DBs will allow the Vols to take away a lot of the underneath routes the Gators like to run and force Leak to hold the ball longer. That approach also allows UT to use a combination of zone and man coverage which is also confusing to opponents.
Finally, Tennessee has to get to Chris Leak even if it doesn't sack him. Like most quarterbacks he can be rattled by the big hit which can force quicker throws and more mistakes.